Making Real Friends: The Heart of Community Engagement

Rose & WaltThis week marks the 1 year anniversary of the fully revised version of my book, FriendRaising.

To honor that event, I’ll be sharing stories from the book all this week. I hope these stories inspire you to get out there and engage friends for the causes you believe in!

FriendRaising: What it is, and Especially What it is NOT
In my real life, I don’t have friends so they’ll pay my bills. I have friends because friendship rocks in every way!! Those are the kinds of friends every cause needs.

And so, FriendRaising is not about fundraising. It is about engaging real people, on the ground in real life (not online), to create the future of your community together.

The most fun part about writing the book was the decision to have all the examples and stories and photos come from our building the very first-ever Diaper Bank in our hometown of Tucson, Arizona, as well as the second diaper bank, in Phoenix. (Today’s story is from our days in Phoenix). These are our own real stories of how we used these strategies to start what has become the whole Diaper Banking movement across the U.S. 

I hope you will find something in these stories to not just guide your own work, but to engage more deeply in all aspects of your life. Because it really is all about being a true friend.

Strategy #10: Community SleuthingCover
(from FriendRaising, page 47)

We all know what a sleuth is – the detective who tracks down all the information he/she can find about the question at hand. That is exactly the essence of Community Sleuthing – asking people for their ideas, their thoughts, their perspectives. Community Sleuthing is the process of asking questions, and listening to the responses.

Community Sleuthing starts with the premise that “You never know.” You never know what people know, what their experience has been, who they know, how they can help. People in your community have incredible wisdom to share. And the best way to find out what they know and what they think is to ask!

Birth of a Diaper Bank
When it came time to expand the Diaper Bank into other parts of Arizona, we knew there was more we did not know than we did know. The one guiding philosophy was that the Diaper Bank had to be owned by the community, and not by us “outsiders.”

There was a balance to be struck, though. Without us outsiders, there would be no Diaper Bank, as we knew the need, we had the passion to connect the need to action, and we knew how to do it collaboratively, economically. We also had the credibility – we had already done it!

So we took out our Life Lists, and we started to make calls.

From the economic development conferences we had attended in conjunction with our work in Native American communities, we had met the Economic Development Director of one of the cities surrounding Phoenix. We called Brian and asked if we could pick his brain about the community.

Brian included the city’s Community Relations Director in our conversation. As we asked about the need in the community, and the services that were already trying to meet that need, Sally brainstormed about other people who should hear about this, who might have different information for us.

Image8She connected us with the Community Relations office at the Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper. The connection from Sally made our call less of a cold call, and Diana was happy to meet with us. We asked her the same questions we had asked Brian and Sally, talking about the same issues – child abuse, elder issues, issues surrounding the disabled.

Diana got excited about what we were doing, and introduced us to her boss, Gene D’Adamo, the head of Community Relations for the Arizona Republic. Gene’s reputation precedes him in the Phoenix metro area, having dedicated his life to helping those in need. His time is well guarded, and had we cold-called him, we can only guess what our success rate would have been.

But coming through people who knew people – well, within a few months, the state’s largest newspaper – the Arizona Republic – had offered to sponsor the first ever diaper drive in the Valley, providing free ads and more importantly, unbelievable instant credibility.

Using Community Sleuthing in the Phoenix area, we were also able to find this brand new Diaper Bank a $75,000 start-up grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. More importantly, thanks to Community Sleuthing, representatives from over 50 area agencies worked together for a year to build the Valley’s Diaper Bank.

Clearly, Community Sleuthing showed the fallacy in the thought, “We don’t know anyone powerful.” In Phoenix, we not only did not know anyone powerful – we hardly knew anyone at all! The proof was in the pudding, though. Community Sleuthing proved we knew everyone we needed to know.

In Part 2 (tomorrow’s installment) you’ll see how those 50 Phoenix organizations built their community’s diaper bank – and the amazing thing that happened when the economy turned sour in 2008. Click here for that installment!

Yes, that is Dimitri during Diaper Drive season – before we built the Diaper Bank. And yes, that is really what our office used to look like in those early Diaper Drive years…

To read more from FriendRaising, click here to download portions as a PDF.

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